Valerie June's Memphis Soul

The Tennessee-native with a range of musical styles joins Biscuits & Jam.

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Valerie June
Photo: Renata Raksha

Valerie June joins Sid Evans to discuss growing up between the rural towns of Humboldt and Jackson, Tennessee, picking crawdads and connecting to other wildlife around her, making music, open mic nights, and the jobs she had during the day at the start of her career.

Get to Know Valerie June

Valerie June has a range that spans from rhythm & blues to Appalachian and bluegrass, penning songs for Mavis Staples and The Blind Boys of Alabama and even writing a new book of poetry titled Maps for the Modern World. Along the way, legends like Booker T. Jones, the Queen of Memphis Soul - Carla Thomas, and even Bob Dylan took notice of her unique style and voice.

What Valerie June Talks About in This Episode

*Biscuit Recipes

*Memphis Favorites

*Growing Up in Rural Tennessee

*Cooking With Family on Holidays

*The Church's Influence on Her Music

*Early Musical Career

*What it Means to be Southern

Quotes from Valerie June

"I will always call Memphis home because everything I do creatively has roots in Memphis. And even now, my first book is out and that's because of a lady I met through a Memphis connection… I really love going to Royal Studios. I have my friends over at Loudean's, which is right near Java Cabana Coffeehouse that my best friend has owned for many years. And the beauty shop is in that Copper Young area. So I love going and eating there and seeing Karen. But the number one place is Maggie's Pharm, which is this tea shop/herb shop/beauty and care shop/holistic healing shop. And I used to work there, but I still love going to Maggie's Pharm. There's nothing like it. You walk in and the scent just overtakes you and anything you need to take care of yourself, you'll find it there."

"My mother is a really great cook, but my brother Jason is actually the absolute best cook in the family…So when he cooks, he dances and he gets excited... It's really fun to watch him cook. And he doesn't just cook. He owns a construction company, and will go to different places around the South so if he is working in west Tennessee, he will stop in and get the best pictures of these strawberry cakes made by ladies at a diner or pecan pies or different things like that. And I'm like, 'Where is this chocolate cake?' 'Oh, it's in Nutbush, Tennessee.'"

-Valerie June

"Holidays are definitely a treat. They really are. The biggest memory of holidays, though, is Gran's yeast rolls. Because she makes the best yeast rolls. I actually sang about them on my last record. The very first song is 'Long Lonely Road' and you say, 'Pile in the church pew rows. Gran makes the best yeast rolls. gospel of stories told. Bout the one way to save your soul.'"

— -Valerie June

"Everyone in my family sings because when you go to church, you use your voice as an instrument. And there aren't any instruments in the church…We are the chorus as we sit in the pews. There is a song leader and there's a songbook with like 900 songs in there. It's pretty thick and it's all great songs. And they'll tell you which page to turn to, and everyone sings all together… You'll hear a lot of different kinds of voices. You hear some voices that are very beautifully trained, other voices that are just old, young, happy, sad, a lot of voices. And I love that character of voices that I learn from the church. And I also love the messages of the songs that are still with me."

"I am an African-American Southerner, and I do think about everything, the hands that worked the soil and the bodies and the growth that we are seeing in the way we relate to each other in the South. And our potential for beauty and its resilience. It is strength. It is power. It is inspiration. It is appreciation and gratitude and humility. It's just like you were born with the story, when you're Southern. You're born with the song. It's like, you're going to be born in the South? Here's your song and here's your story. So that's what it is for me. All of those words and then some."

About Biscuits & Jam

In the South, talking about food is personal. It's a way of sharing your history, your family, your culture, and yourself. Each week Sid Evans, editor in chief of Southern Living, sits down with celebrity musicians to hear stories of how they grew up, what inspired them, and how they've been shaped by Southern culture. Sid takes us back to some of their most cherished memories and traditions, the family meals they still think about, and their favorite places to eat on the road.

Listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, and Stitcher.

Get a transcript of the full interview with Valerie June.

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